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Views from a Distance: Remote Sensing Technologies and the Perception of the Earth

This is a project about viewing Earth from a distance. Both the views from remote observation points and the resulting images are extraordinary. Since the 1960s we have been presented with awe-inspiring pictures of the entire globe taken from space. We tend to overlook, however, that elaborate sensing technology often mediates the long distances between the observer and the image. These distances are geographical as well as epistemic: Remote sensing technology does not ´see´ but perceive the Earth in complicated ways. The resulting images convey the coherence and completeness of photographic pictures but they only emerge through intricate processes of translating large sets of discrete data into consistent visual formats. The processes of generating, aggregating and translating data points into a visual whole are imbued with the ambitions, interpretations and applications of different actors in international and transnational settings. This project aims to disaggregate the Earth imagery of landmasses, ice, and seascapes. By analyzing the decisions, methods, money and technologies which enter the assembling of such imagery we hope to explore and explain the political and social conditions of translating situated observations into global images, and also to elucidate their global consequences.

Project leader: Nina Wormbs

Participants at the Division: Nina Wormbs, Sabine Höhler, Johan Gärdebo

Funding agency: Swedish Research Council

Duration: 2013-2015